Winter storm's record snowfall brought fun - and disaster
The big winter storm of 2021 shouldn't have been a surprise, when it rolled in on February 11 – it was accurately predicted by weather forecasters. But, it was a record-setter: Alternately dumping freezing rain, sleet, and snow on Inner Southeast Portland neighborhoods, and tying a Portland weather record.
Within 24 hours, residential streets became impassable to anything but trucks with chains. Ice forming on trees broke limbs that took down electrical power lines and Internet trunk lines in unprecedented numbers.
The storm left a crazy-quilt patchwork of streets with no electricity for days, while others nearby never lost power. The electric outages affected several grocery stores, including the Woodstock Safeway – it lost power for 22 hours, causing fresh dairy, meats, and deli items to become spoiled, requiring they be discarded.
Nevertheless, the intrepid correspondents for THE BEE headed out, documenting this storm with photographs – capturing families playing in the white icy ground covering – as well as some of the damage left behind by the storm.
A spot-on forecastNational Weather Service Meteorologist Rebecca Muessle helped THE BEE understand more about this storm: A wintery blizzard unlike any in the Rose City in the past 40 years.
"Here in the Portland area, it's easy for a snow forecast to be wrong," Muessle reflected. "We use weather models when forecasting all storms; but, with snow events, it's all a matter of timing,"We're pleased – from the forecasting point of view – that we were able to accurately predict this one, because our job is to be as accurate as can be, to help predict hazards for life and property."
Anatomy of a storm
"Leading up to the storm, on February 10, a lot of cold air was pushing south – technically, it's called an 'Arctic air mass'. It moved into, and eventually filled, the Columbia River basin," explained Muessle. "A high pressure center over the Pacific Ocean caused easterly winds, much like what we saw in September – which pulled all that cold air into the Portland area. That met with a series of storm fronts, pushing inland from the west, carrying moisture
"That combination of incoming moist air from the west, meeting the cold winds coming from the east, set the stage for this storm."
February 11 registered a high temperature of 40°. But, with a high temperature of only 30° on February 12 as the chilled air started to filter in, the falling rain soon turned to snow – followed by ice, later in the day.
Ties snowfall record"On Friday, February 12, we measured a snowfall of 6.1 inches – which tied the record for Portland's highest single-day snowfall, set on February 19, 1993," Muessle pointed out.
There was then a lull on Saturday, February 13 – but the weather changed again on Valentine's Day, Sunday, February 14. "We had cold air in a low-level easterly wind; but aloft, about 1,000 feet above the ground, a southwesterly wind was bringing in warmer air, loaded with moisture.
"When the rain fell through the cold east wind and hit the cold trees, wires, and the ground, it froze on contact, causing heavy ice accumulation," observed Muessle.
"On Monday, once the sun rose and east wind stopped, almost everything began to thaw and we went into a warming pattern." But the damage was already done."Models aren't currently showing any other blast of cold air coming in," she assured.
Utility crews worked diligently on 24-hour shifts to restore power, telephone, and Internet services, but even with the help of utility crews responding from other states, full repair, and restoration to service, to the thousands damaged poles and downed lines required many days of hard work.
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